pre-med majors


The designation “pre-med
” comes with opportunities as well as constraints. On the one hand, it isn’t a major in its own right—so you get to choose any subject that you love to study as a major, while still pursuing your dream of becoming a doctor. On the other hand, a pre-med track does require you to complete a certain set of core classes so that you’ll qualify to apply to medical school—and those classes can leave little time for other pursuits. To make the best possible decision, you’ll need to understand your options and be ready to overcome any related obstacles.

Knowing Your Pre-Med Major Options

Choosing a college major as a pre-med can be very intimidating—especially because there are so many options, and the stakes feel high (they are!). While a great many pre-meds choose biology (or a related science) as their major, there is nothing wrong with selecting something further afield, such as English or a foreign language. As medical schools increasingly seek well-rounded applicants, humanities majors are becoming more common. Regardless of what you choose, you will probably have two advisors: one from the pre-professional office to help you with pre-med course selection, and one specifically for your major. You can—and should—ask them to help you plan your coursework so you’ll be well positioned for the medical school admissions process.

At least theoretically, all of the options for major fields of study at your school are available to you. That said, most pre-meds tend to opt for a relatively narrow range of majors.

Biological Sciences

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), more than half of medical school applicants, as well as matriculants, major in the biological sciences. This makes sense: In biology and related fields, there’s likely to be a high degree of overlap between the requirements for your major and your requirements as a pre-med. Plus, there’s a good chance you want to be a doctor because you already have a keen interest in biological sciences. So it’s totally reasonable that you’d want to devote most of your coursework to your area of greatest interest.

Keep in mind, too, that even within the biological sciences, you’ve got a number of options besides biology. Many universities offer a variety of science majors such as neuroscience, physiology, medical science, microbiology, zoology, and biotechnology. Any of these will likely have significant applicability to your medical school pursuits—so feel free to pursue your passions!

Because the biological sciences place a heavy emphasis on, well, biology, you’ll also want to ensure that you take classes outside of your major. Having an entirely science-based curriculum can lead to burnout. Plus, taking non-science courses will give you training in other disciplinary modes of thinking. Often, non-science courses can serve the double function of fulfilling your core course requirements—while also broadening your studies.

You might also want to consider picking up a non-science minor. This can offer a way to make your application stand out while also allowing you to focus primarily on the area most applicable to medical school. Spanish is an excellent option for a minor. Many undergraduate service opportunities include volunteering or working in Spanish-speaking countries, so this can be a great way to obtain a meaningful clinical experience. In addition, knowing Spanish will likely be useful in your future practice.

Physical Sciences

A sizeable number of medical school hopefuls major in the physical sciences. Like biological sciences, these offer training that is often directly applicable to medical school curricula. Completing the coursework for a major in physics, chemistry, or a related field will also enable you to fulfill many of your major and pre-med requirements at once. Also like a major in biology, it will serve you better if it’s accompanied by non-science classes—or even a non-science minor field of study.

Math and Statistics

While math and statistics majors make up a small percentage of medical school applicants and matriculants (less than one percent), as a group they have the highest mean overall MCAT score and mean GPA. While some major requirements are likely to overlap with your pre-med requirements—and while the mode of thinking you’ll hone as a math or stats major will certainly prepare you for many of the rigors of medical school—you will likely need to use a considerable number of your electives to fulfill your pre-med requirements.

Social Sciences

About ten percent of medical school matriculants come from social sciences majors. Some of these, like economics, may have requirements that overlap somewhat with your pre-med curriculum. Others, like anthropology, political science, or sociology, are likely to overlap just a little (if at all)—so you will likely need to use your electives to ensure that you complete all of your pre-med requirements. Choosing a natural sciences minor may offer a great way to ensure that you’re getting higher-level science courses onto your transcript.

Humanities

A little less than four percent of medical school matriculants come from humanities majors. Majoring in a humanities subject such as modern or classical languages, literature, or philosophy will certainly set you apart from other medical school applicants. But note that you will have to plan your coursework strategically to ensure that you fulfill all of your major and pre-med requirements. If you opt to major in the humanities, make sure you take some higher-level science courses because medical school admissions committees will look for those on your transcript.

In addition, consider picking up a natural sciences minor. This offers an easy way to ensure you can fit higher-level science courses into your schedule. Biology or chemistry would be a great choice. You’ll also want to ensure that you regularly communicate with your pre-med advisor about your course load. Your advisor will help you stay on track with medical school requirements and make sure you properly plan which courses to take before you sit for the MCAT.

Understanding Your Requirements

All pre-med students have certain core science classes they need to take. (The AAMC published a list of requirements for each medical school in the country.) These always include biology, chemistry (general and organic), biochemistry, and physics, and often include math/statistics, psychology, and sociology. If you’re a natural sciences major, these will likely already be included in the requirements for your major. If you opt for a humanities or other non-overlapping major, you’ll need to ensure they can be fit into your schedule without overloading. A convenient way to fit everything into your schedule is to take courses during J-term (January term), the summer, or Maymester.

Regardless of your major, make sure you meet with your major and pre-med advisor at least once per semester to confirm that you are on the right path to graduate. Always keep both informed of any changes you make to your schedule. Working with both of them will help make your course selection smoother and medical school application process easier. You can also speak to upperclassmen who have gone through the application cycle. They can often offer new insights and tips for what to take—and when to take it.

Thinking Like a Medical School Admissions Committee

While your choice of major might feel like a significant decision—and it is—keep in mind that your major is not the most important factor in an admissions decision. Course selection, GPA, and MCAT scores figure much more importantly. Just because you may have chosen a very challenging major does not mean the admissions committee will cut you some slack in any of these other areas.

More specifically for GPA, medical schools will take an average of your grades from your biology, chemistry, physics, and math (BCPM) classes. To increases your BCPM GPA, you can take some “easier” science classes in a particular minor, or even as electives.

Deciding on the Pre-Med Track

What if you’re not sure you want to be a doctor? Should you still get on the pre-med track? There is nothing wrong with going into college unsure of your specific career goals. With that said, applying to medical school requires a lot of advance planning. If you’re uncertain, get on the track early anyway; it’s easier to get off than it is to join later on. (If you decide much later to become a doctor, you may need to pursue a time-consuming and costly—but still doable—post-baccalaureate program as a non-traditional medical school applicant.) We advise taking introductory science courses, along with classes in a few subjects you think you might want to study, during your first year. This will give you some time to figure out what you truly want to do, and it’ll ensure you’re on track with your pre-med coursework should you decide to continue with it.

A Final Note

It is important that you like your major, so don’t feel pressured to choose what you think is the “best” major for medical school. As long as you take higher-level science courses and maintain a good BCPM GPA, any major is fine. Be guided by your interests and goals—they will lead you down the right path.